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Novel Solar Hydro Power Plant in Australia Gets Nod

On behalf of the Australian Government, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) recently announced $15 million in funding to an Australian green technology company to construct its first of a kind ‘solar hydro’ power plant comprising 4 MW of solar PV generation and 3 MW / 50 MWh (17 hours) of dispatchable storage capacity in north-west Victoria.

The tech company ‘solar hydro’ power plant consists of the firm’s proprietary PV Ultra, a concentrating photovoltaic solar co-generation tower, combined with its patented electro-thermal storage. The concentrated PV technology generates heat as a by-product which is captured and used for thermal storage.

The electro-thermal storage system consists of an Organic Rankine Cycle (ORC) turbine, industrial chillers and two insulated water-based thermal storage pits or reservoirs, each roughly the size of four Olympic size swimming pools. One of the reservoirs is kept at a temperature of 90 degrees and the other at close to 0 degrees, and the temperature difference is used to generate dispatchable electricity using ORC turbines.

The green tech company ‘solar hydro’ technology offers a renewable, modular and scalable solution to the emerging need for longer duration storage that has been identified by the Australian Energy Market Operator in its Integrated System Plan.

The $30 million project includes this fully dispatchable renewable energy facility as well as a new manufacturing facility that will allow the firm to prepare for forecast growth and expansion of its project pipeline in Australia. It is expected that the subsequent larger-scale projects will achieve the Low Emissions Technology Statement stretch goal of providing firmed renewables for under $100 / MWh.

The demonstration-scale facility will be located in Carwarp, Victoria near Mildura, and will export renewable electricity to the National Electricity Market (NEM). The project will participate in wholesale energy and Frequency Control Ancillary Services (FCAS) markets once operational and is eligible for Large-scale Generation Certificates.

The company has successfully completed a capital raise for $27 million in equity from parties including AGL, Schlumberger New Energy, Photon Energy, and Chevron Technology Ventures alongside new and existing investors. The green tech firm has also negotiated an offtake agreement for the project with AGL.

The project builds on a feasibility study and development work supported by an ARENA grant of $3 million that was announced in March 2020. The ARENA CEO noted that the success of the firm’s innovative technology provides an exciting opportunity to address Australia’s emerging longer duration storage needs.

He stated that the technology has many benefits for the energy market as the energy system’s transformation continues and is driven by renewables. Much like combining pumped hydro and a traditional solar farm, the firm’s technology can provide longer duration firming for renewable energy generation. The government is particularly interested in the potential for the technology to deliver firmed renewable energy at a very competitive cost.

ARENA previously supported the company with a total of $8.67 million in funding to develop its PV Ultra technology and build the 1 MW PV Ultra pilot project in Newbridge, Victoria. The pilot project has been operational for over two years powering a local mushroom farm.

CSIRO report: renewables still cheapest new-build power in Australia

Each year CSIRO and the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) consult with industry stakeholders to estimate the cost to generate electricity for new power plants in Australia through their GenCost report.

This year’s report used a new, more accurate approach for analysing the cost of renewables like solar and wind, to include additional ‘integration’ costs such as storage and new transmission infrastructure, and still found solar and wind continue to be the cheapest sources of new-build electricity generation.

This report concludes that:

  • Solar and wind continue to be the cheapest sources of new-build electricity.
  • Battery costs fell the most in 2020-21 compared to any other generation or storage technology and are projected to continue to fall. Lower battery storage costs underpin the long-term competitiveness of renewables.
  • Pumped hydro is also important and is more competitive when longer durations of storage (above eight hours) are required.
  • The new approach is a model of the electricity system that optimises the amount of storage needed and also includes additional transmission expenditure.
  • Previous reports added arbitrary amounts of storage costs and did not include transmission or other costs.

This report includes hydrogen electrolysers for the first time and finds that hydrogen is following a similar trajectory to more established renewables. With increased interest in global deployment and many demonstration projects worldwide, substantial cost reductions in hydrogen technologies are expected over the next decades.

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